Monday, 24 July 2017

WHY WE SHOULD RESPECT THE INCARCERATED LABRADOR THREE

None of the people who are alleged to have falsified the estimates, and possibly other aspects of the so-called “business case” for the Muskrat Falls project, are in jail.

Some of those responsible are probably still permitted to wield power, enter into contracts, spend public money, earn large salaries, and if they have been deceitful cover their tracks.

Although the consequences of their actions will imperil the economy and cause enormous human pain, possibly for decades, the politicians from the Premier down have made excuses to protect them from being held to account.

They enjoy immunity while their mothership Nalcor is permitted to swear affidavits and call upon the judicial system to grant injunctions against protesters making a mockery of transparency and fairness in the bargain.    
Likely, some of the protesters, their families, and all the like-minded who are affected by their incarceration and by the fear that the wrong people are on the ‘inside’, will blame Judge Murphy for having put them there: will see him a tool a stooge of an injudicious and overbearing state.  

It is fundamental that Judge Murphy not be seen that way.
Jim Learning
The role of a Judge every Judge is to uphold the law.

He/she does not make the law, does not conduct investigations, and cannot order a public inquiry into Nalcor or into the decisions of Ed Martin, Gil Bennett, Paul Harrington, Danny Williams, Kathy Dunderdale, or of the many others who are so closely associated with the Muskrat Fals Project. 

And we should be grateful if Judge Murphy is diligent that is to say, that he stays within the parameters which the law affords, including incarcerating offenders.

And, if Judge Murphy has erred, his decisions are subject to appeal.

That is not something over which Ed Martin, Gil Bennett, the Premier, or the Minister of Justice has a say. That is the law: the law of civil democratic society.

Judge Murphy has not failed Marjorie Flowers, Jim Learning, and Eldred Davis.

That failure is found in our political leadership most lately in Premier Ball and in the Minister of Justice Andrew Parsons.

It is found, too, in our weak institutions the press, the political parties, the Auditor-General, the PUB all complicit either by their silence or by their conflicts. Even the new Consumer Advocate has fallen in lock-step with the Ball government.

Weaknesses are found even in the justice system. Good policing should not need corporate bureaucratic injunctions.

So why are three decent, ordinarily law-abiding, pillars of the community in jail other than because they each broke the law?

When honest, decent people are prepared to face incarceration not just one dissenter, but several normally law-abiding citizens there is likely a fundamental breakdown in the politics of the society whose rules hold them behind bars.

Some will say that they are prisoners of conscience: that they are in jail is their choice and, therefore, they warrant no further consideration.

But not so fast.
Majorie Flowers

If all we do is dismiss people of courage; if as a society we are not even tempted to lift the thin veil of deceit which has been visited upon us these past five years, denying all the while that a penalty a bill for our inaction awaits; or, if we cater to the dithering of an ill-suited Premier and a na├»ve and passive Minister of Justice, then those three stalwart citizens, held in a St. John’s jail, are wasting their time. 

In that case they, and their example, would be too good for us. We would not deserve their leadership.

But are we really beyond redemption?

Is there really a conflict between awarding them the status of “leader” in a society that respects the rule of law, when they are deliberate law-breakers?

To answer that question we need to ask: were their actions malicious? Did they care only for their own interests, or did they represent those of the larger community and society?

We might ask further: is the basis on which those in authority have been shielded from examination justifiable, especially given what has been alleged which, if proven in court, will amount to crimes of fraud on a massive scale?

On the scales of justice, should the benefit of the doubt be afforded only to those with attachment to the levers of power? 

The three Labradorians are protesting what they perceive is a violation of their right to public safety and a clean environment. They seek transparency in government and they want alleged official misbehaviour investigated and exposed. They are in jail because the political leadership has failed them. It is their choice to protest, to be sure.

But look at what they demand:

1. Independent Review of the North Spur stability;

2. Immediate progress on the Methymercury agreement (presumably the agreement that led to the end of a hunger strike for two people last year); and

3. Public inquiry and forensic audit of Nalcor.

Aren’t those the same things that virtually all of us want?

Would not their exertions normally be the job of our leadership and of our institutions?

Equally, isn’t a professionally-conducted audit or inquiry independent of the slightest political interference what the culprits fear most?

I don’t know Majorie Flowers, except by reputation, but she seems to be the neighbour we would all love to have. I have spoken with Jim Learning many times and have received hospitality at his home. He is the kind of person who would step over an ant.

Eldred Davis
On the Churchill River, Eldred Davis not a talker or a man given to meaningless flourish gave this neophyte advice, occasionally sharing his Labrador tent, and insights, too about the River, and life exhibiting truly admirable qualities including kindness and an enormous intelligence.

These are people to be taken seriously because they care about the planet, about their community and society. They care about fairness and about respecting rights. No different than Judge Murphy, they just want the same rules applied equally to everyone.

Still, the public does not have to support or condone their form of protest.

Luckily, others can indicate their displeasure to Premier Ball and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons giving focus to their failure to lead, their failure help heal a society irreparably wounded, their failure to insist that those responsible for the debacle that is the Muskrat Falls Project should also face the rule of law.

We should think about those things just as we should acknowledge and respect the courage and selflessness of Majorie Flowers, Jim Learning and Eldred Davis.

Dwight Ball has had a hard time finding the courage demanded of leadership. The three from Labrador have selflessly given him one more opportunity.

He can wait until others join those three, and dither some more while those who really give our society offense mock him and our unwillingness to compel him to act.

Or he can show, right now, a measure of the courage exhibited by the Labrador Three.